Dick Hunt's Blog

October 13, 2011

Franz McTavish, 8,000 hours Flying Time

Filed under: Current — Dick Hunt's Blog @ 8:16 pm

Franz McTavish, 8,000 hours Flying Time.
by Dick Hunt, October 13th, 2011.

When I was still ranching in Alberta, 130 miles North East of Calgary after the war, my younger brother Bill was managing a 48,ooo acre Ranch 100 miles east of Calgary, Alberta. In March, 1948, he was living alone in a converted garage and feeding around 500 cows, near the buildings. One day as he was riding his horse near the barn, it slipped on ice and fell, landing on Bills right ankle causing a very serious compound fracture.  He managed to get the saddle off the horse and turned it loose in  the hay stack yard.  Then he crawled about 100 meters to the house and laid down to rest  He had no phone and the nearest neighbour was five miles away, but within sight. After not having seen Bill out and around for five days, the neighbour, Willard Cody sent his son Jack over to check on him. He found Bill in very grim shape and his ankle and foot terribly swollen and black.

Next morning Jack rode his horse to the village of Cessford, 18 miles west through the very deep snow to the nearest phone and called our Father in Calgary.  He sent a ski equipped Aeronca Champion plane with Pilot Eustace Bowhay to bring Bill to Hospital.  Bill had not had a bath or a shave for six months and looked very ill, and he was.  The Hospital was the Holy Cross and it is a great credit to the staff there that they were able to save his ankle and foot and restore full mobility to him.  After some months, Eustace flew him back to the Ranch. He let Bill take the controls part of the way home and Bill was fully decided to learn to fly and to buy his own plane which he did as soon as he could make arrangements.
Eustace was one of his instructors at Chinook Flying service in Calgary, which was owned and managed by Franz McTavish. Franz sent him off solo after only three hours and 25 minutes dual. Bill never looked back.  He was a very able and safe pilot and although he did not have a Commercial Licence, he was often called upon to fly emergency cases to hospital in an area where there were no winter roads. He also used the plane in his operation of the Ranch to good effect in keeping track of the cattle and their needs.   The time soon came when he needed a larger plane with more power and he bought a four place Aeronca Sedan, which he used until he sold that Ranch and moved to the Ranch where we were both born and he managed that until his death from Lou Gherigs Disease when  he was just 71 years of age.  After his move, he did not have a need for the plane and with regret, sold it.  He was gratified to learn that his plane was later used in the preparations for Expo 86, to take the air photo’s for the publicising of that great show.

Bill was able to take care of his plane in spite of his distance from Calgary. On one occasion, a very strong northwest wind whipped the vertical stabilizer back and forth so severely that most of the welds in the tubular frame were broken. He used duct tape to mend it and when the weather was calm, carefully flew to Chinook Air and had it properly repaired. On another  occasion while on ski’s during deep winter snow, he caught the tail ski on a railroad track, tearing the ski off. He flew back to the ranch, fired up the blacksmith forge and made a new ski from a plow share.  Still another time, he was on wheels during a very wet spring and had landed on a grass field.  When taxiing back for take off into the wind, the strong tail wind caught the tail and tipped the plane onto it’s nose. He quickly stopped the motor but the prop was still turning when it hit the ground, bending the aluminum propeller.  Noticing that there was a seismograph crew from an oil company just a short distance away, he asked their help. They carefully placed the plane back on its wheels and then with their four foot pipe wrenches they straightened the Prop as well as they could.   Bill few back to the Ranch and then back to Calgary to have the prop properly repaired and balanced.

When Bill married Lee Bradshaw they flew off to Chicago on their honeymoon with a new 145 horsepower Continental Engine in place of the back seat and had it installed at the Aeronca factory while the Major Inspection was done. Back at the Ranch, Bill flew aerial viewing and reporting of serious grass fires and helped move fire fighters around. On one occasion, he flew to a Ranch on the banks of the Red Deer River to attend the wedding of the Rancher’s daughter.  The year was 1952 and there were 9 , 1952 Ford cars there, including one belonging to the groom. Someone  took the rotor out of the distributor of the bridesgrooms car, for a prank. After a while someone “found the Distributor” and gave it back to the Bridegroom. It broke when he put it back.  Nothing for it but to take one out of someone elses car. That one broke too.  Finally all nine cars were disabled with broken rotors.  It was a weakness of that model year. Bill flew across the River to a Ford dealership and bought a dozen rotors, finally getting all the disabled cars operating.

In the course of time I took flying lessons at Chinook Air and soloed after 3 hours and fifteen minutes dual. I was not able to justify the purchase of a plane for fun only and so didn’t continue to fly.  But I flew with Bill frequently and enjoyably.
My brother Wilf and I caught a ride with Franz in his Ryan Navion four pasenger low wing Monoplane from the Ranch to Calgary after he had dropped into our airstrip for a visit. It was when reading a story at the back of the current McLean’s Magazine this morning that all the above memories came flashing back and I have written this down. The Ryan Navion was designed and built by the same firm that designed and build the Mustang Fighters used so widely by the American and other air forces during the second World War.

After his many hours of flying conventional aircraft,  Franz McTavish was qualified to fly helicopters.  Tragically, when flying an inspector to check power lines late in the afternoon in southern Alberta, he failed to see a guy wire beside a steel tower, hit it and both he and his passenger were killed. His wife continued to operate Chinook Air Services for some years after his death. They were our very good friends and wonderful people.

Another accident, almost identical to that which took Franz from us, occurred near Quesnel B.C.  when we were in St.Peter’s Parish in Williams Lake. My Churchwarden, Sam Ketcham was flying back from Prince George to Williams Lake one late afternoon and his pilot failed to see a guy wire. They were both killed.  Another great tragedy.

1 Comment »

  1. Hello Dick

    Thanks for sharing your memories of those flying times!

    Regarding the Aeronca Sedan that your brother Bill owned and my website dedictated to that aircraft type, http://www.n1331h.com, I would very pleased, if you contacted me.

    Best regards from Switzerland

    Matt

    Comment by Matt — October 29, 2011 @ 3:07 am


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